Q&A: Bibio (Stephen Wilkinson)


Wolverhampton, 2005

Bibio’s music sounds timeless, and his past two releases, Vignetting the Compost and Ovals and Emeralds, are full of beautifully produced folk-tinged electronic songs. Using found sounds and vintage instruments, the native of central England crafts folk revisions of Boards of Canada-like psychedelia, each song like a postcard from other worlds. Recently, he took time off to speak with us about his work, the spiritual potential of music, lomo photography and African highlife.

EM: Ovals and Emeralds is markedly different from Vignetting the Compost in its use of carnival and circus instruments. The songs are, at times, hauntingly beautiful and unsettling. Describe how you came about with the aesthetic for this release.

I was captivated by carousel art for quite a while, it kind of goes back nearly 10 years. Not just carousels but old fashioned things like zoopraxiscopes, zoetropes, automatons etc. With that comes the grotesque, ornate and over-decorated designs of the victorian era and beyond. In the context of today’s minimalism, it all seems so haunting and bizarre. I guess I can’t shrug it off really, each time I’ve delved into it I’ve tried to reflect another facet of it. With Ovals & Emeralds I wanted it to be full on wonky out-of-tune fairground organ type sounds but kind of telling a story of a cursed traveling circus. All the instruments are made by myself, like sampling single notes from flutes and recorders on an old Akai sampler, and then messing with the pitch and timbre to make instruments that suggest circuses and fairgrounds.

EM: You are a devoted reader of Alan Watts and Walt Whitman and your records often embrace the intersection between nature and technology through the use of found sounds and field recordings. What spirituality, if at all, do you seek to distill through your music?

I suppose it’s the profound sense of wonder. Funny that I should be answering this question right now, I just woke up from a sleep with my head on my girlfriend’s lap, when I wake I often get this profound window of thought, it’s rather transient but powerful nonetheless. I looked up at her and just saw a miracle, and the sensation that follows is just pure wonder. That’s a sensation I’d like to distill through my music. I strongly believe that when the mind sees without the conditioning of its everyday filters, intense sensations of awe and euphoria may occur. That window before fully waking is one route, psychedelic drugs may be another and of course meditation. I don’t actively endorse chemical enlightenment as something for everyone. I think music can be a vehicle too.

EM: Vignetting the Compost evokes a strong sense of nostalgia, particularly for innocence and childhood. Are there any particular memories you had in mind while working on the record?

They’re a combination of personal memories and fictional ones. I think more of the latter in this album. The fictional memories are really stories or suggestions of stories that evoke emotions or sensations rather than anything specific. Nostalgia is just that really. Where something retro like a grainy bauhaus font on a film ident may remind you of 1981, the sensation that accompanies that is more deeply profound and personal. I tried to make VTC less bauhaus retro and more John Constable or Thomas Bewick retro hehe.

james and minnie flowers

EM: Have you met the Sandison brothers of Boards of Canada?

No. Only Marcus, electronically. It came about by me sending them a CD many many years ago when England and Scotland were just agricultural fields dividing towns and cities.

EM: Describe any rare music finds you’ve been excited about lately.

Juma Muhina. He’s an African highlife artist from the 70s I believe. Dada Mwajuma is the album, and it’s pure joyousness. I’ve also been getting ohrwurm from The Ink Spots and the Four Freshmen.

EM: You have an affinity for the outdoors, particularly that of Wales. Describe your relationship with nature and the environment.

My Dad bought a touring caravan in the early 80s. I fell in love with it. I think I cried when he sold it. We used to go on holidays in mid Wales very often. Waking up to the sound of cooing doves and the smell of dew-soaked grass was as delightful then as it is now. We pitched it by a river and that’s where I caught my first rainbow trout. I think halcyon is the prettiest and most genuine word to describe it. Fishing trips became more common and I just experienced a connection with nature that is more magical than I can put into words. Staring at a river bed as it distorts from the water refraction, the smell of algae and watching minnows dart beneath your feet, it’s full of the true, the blushful hippocrene.

EM: You occasionally post up photography taken on disposable cameras and a Rolleiflex Automat on Flickr, and many of them have a pleasant, lo-fi vignetting effect (not dissimilar to your music). Tell us about your perspective when working in this medium.

I generally get excited about photographs that have an epic and mysterious quality. Some of the cross-processed Holga stuff look like paintings. I took a load of pics with a Lomo LC-A and a Holga in Cwm Einion (Artists’ Valley) in Wales, and they capture the essence of the place so well, they look like they have stories behind them and I don’t see any pristine digital photo doing that. I like images of natural beauty to have an undeniable character, so they are painterly and not just documentations.

cwm einion mossy branches

EM: As a collector of vintage instruments and gadgets, what pieces are you particularly proud of?

My Nagra IV-S tape recorder, my Rolleiflex Automat, my 1988 Hofner Jazz guitar, my Sennheiser MKH 110 microphone, and a delay pedal of which I’m not giving the name away, it’s one of my secret weapons.

What is your favorite city to visit when you travel abroad?

At the moment it’s Berlin. I’ve only recently started enjoying cities properly. I’ve had a tendency to always want to be in nature, but I really enjoyed my last two trips to Berlin when visiting my good friend and labelmate Chris Clark. He’s a genius by the way, in case you didn’t know. Berlin got my appetite up for cities. It also made me see London in a different light. I enjoy East London more these days, but not as much as Berlin.

vintage shop kreuzberg berlin
Kreuzberg, Berlin

EM: Do you have any plans to tour the world?

I’m still getting my head around that. I’ll just see where the wave takes me. I want to visit Japan and the west coast of the USA and Canada as far as tours go, but for a true adventure, I want to travel India.



via Abe Ahn, 21 May 2009 10:45am |